After a thrilling Road National Championships and the return of the international peloton, our summer of cycling takes us to the start of the AusCycling National Road Series, the premier domestic road competition in Australia.
It begins this weekend with the longest one-day classic on the calendar, the Melbourne to Warrnambool.
With a legacy dating back to 1895, the ‘Warrny’ is a storied race whose name conjures up memories of gruelling conditions, outstanding feats of endurance, and glorious victories.
Let’s take a look at this year’s edition.
At 267 kilometres, the men’s Warrny is the longest single event on the calendar. The winner will take between six and eight hours to finish, depending which way the wind’s blowing on Saturday.
Unchanged from last year, the race begins at Avalon Airport and starts on a freeway. It then heads inland, meandering south-west through Colac until it reaches the Great Ocean Road near Port Campbell with 75km to go.
Typically, this is where the race really begins, where crosswinds from the Southern Ocean can smash apart a peloton with 200km already in their legs.
The route then winds inland through Allansford before the famous finish on Raglan Parade, a kilometre-long straight with an uphill rise to the flag.
20°C and cloudy. In bad news for riders, a headwind is forecast for Saturday, which will slow down the peloton considerably. A few light showers are predicted but most of the race should be dry.
Taking a look at the honour roll, this is a race for strong men with a fast finish. Cameron Scott last year, Jensen Plowright, Brendan Johnston, or as far back as Simon Gerrans in 2003 – think of your Classics-oriented sprinters.
ARA Skip Capital may have lost Cam Scott to the WorldTour, but they’ve picked up last year’s third place in Myles Stewart, who’d normally be the man to beat in a reduced sprint. But they also have young Blake Agnoletto who’s shown some serious speed over the summer and is a luxurious second option in a sprint. Backed by NRS champion Kane Richards and under-23 strongman Brady Gilmore, the Sunshine Coast team have the horsepower to take back-to-back victories.
They’ll be challenged, as always, by Team Bridgelane, which has 2019 winner Nick White on their squad. But Sam Jenner and Elliot Schultz have shown good form this summer, while young riders like Alastair Christie-Johnston are on the rise. In short, both ARA and Bridgelane will have many cards to play in the final moments.
Outside the two biggest teams, Canberra journeyman Ben Hill (Blackshaw Racing) is rarely far from the podium here and will be in the mix again.
CCACHE x Par Küp brings under-23 criterium national champion Graeme Frislie and a similarly fast-finishing Matthew Rice, who had good legs in New Zealand last month. We’re not yet sure how they’ll cope with the distance, but if they make it to Warrnambool, the podium is a good bet.
To pull some jokers out of the pack, watch for the free-spirited Lachlan Morton to enliven the race. He will be guest-riding for the Trivelo-EF team.
Also watch for Daniel Bonello in the black and fluoro of ZCC Racing: keen eyes will remember him in Maltese kit at the Wollongong World Championships, as well as embracing his partner Brodie Chapman when she became Australian road champion this year.
UPDATE 3 FEBRUARY: In amazing news, four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome has been confirmed as a late entrant into the Melbourne to Warrnambool. No doubt he'll mainly be using the race as preparation for his upcoming European season, but it'll be worth tuning in just to see this Grand Tour legend in action.
The standalone women’s race is back after debuting last year, and is one of the longest races for women in the whole world.
Sunday’s event takes on the final 160km of the men’s route, beginning at the Colac Velodrome.
The first classified hill climb begins just 5km into the race, providing a launchpad for an early escape if one of the teams wants to ride aggressively.
After passing through Timboon for the second QOM, the route reaches the Great Ocean Road near Port Campbell for the last QOM, where exposed roads can bring crosswinds into play.
The first intermediate sprint is along the coast at Peterborough with 65km to go. After the next intermediate sprint in Allansford with just 16km remaining, the rolling run into Warrnambool will be the last chance to get away before the finish on Raglan Parade.
The women’s peloton should enjoy mild conditions on Sunday, cloudy and 20°C with gentle winds.
Last year, an elite lead group of six riders rode away to contest the win, with Maeve Plouffe dominating the sprint. With a sample size of one, it’s tough to predict how this year’s edition will play out. Given the distance, it probably won’t be a large peloton contesting the bunch sprint, and we’ll see another small group or solo rider take the win.
For riders to watch, let’s start with Roxsolt Liv SRAM. They bring just four riders, but it’s an all-star cast. Their roster is headlined by Chloe Hosking, Australia’s most successful female road sprinter. Alongside is Peta Mullens, who won the women’s Warrny in 2019 when it was part of the men’s race. Justine Barrow is probably the NRS's best climber, given her performance at last year's Spirit of Tasmania Cycling Tour. Finally, national championship medallist Matilda Field rounds out this loaded squad that will be hunting for victory.
Speaking of former winners, Matilda Raynolds will be racing for the Lochard Energy composite team after a solid showing at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Raynolds has won the women’s Warrny twice, in 2020 and 2021, and she was third last year. The talent is there, and no doubt she’ll have fire in the belly to win the standalone race for the first time.
ARA Skip Capital may have lost the 2022 winner to the WorldTour, but they still have some rapid finishers including track riders Sophie Edwards and Chloe Moran. Either would be a good wheel to follow if it comes down to a sprint.
The newly-formed Team Bridgelane have enjoyed an outstanding start to the year. They’ll look to continue the pattern with Gina Ricardo in good condition and Emily Watts looking for a big result after crashing in the Tour Down Under. A podium result is conceivable in this team’s first NRS race.
Other contenders for the top ten include Katie Banerjee (DRG Knights LIV), who has enjoyed an excellent summer; Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) who has a quick sprint; and Nicola Macdonald (Cervélo-Ziptrak).
You can watch the men’s and women’s NRS races live on SBS On Demand, with commentary from Matt Keenan, Gracie Elvin and Dave McKenzie.
Saturday, February 4
Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic
11:30am – 3:00pm AEDT
SBS On Demand
Sunday, February 5
Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Cycling Classic
10:30am – 2:00pm AEDT
SBS On Demand
(An earlier version of this guide indicated the events would be streamed on Facebook. This is no longer the case).
Click to download provisional start lists for Men and Women.